Mind the Gap (again) by Matt McGann '00
About deferring admission for a year, also known as a gap year.
I’m currently in Indianapolis, busy with the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF). An entry about ISEF with photos is coming when I get a chance, but in the meantime, this is a good time to talk about the possibility of deferring admission, also known as taking a gap year. In the interests of time, I’m going to reprint an entry (edited slightly) from last year about an Associated Press article:
The Associated Press has a nice story about “gap years” that has been picked up by news organizations across the country. I first saw it at cnn.com/education, but it’s been in newspapers and on websites from Kentucky.com to SanLuisObispo.com.
You can read the story yourself here, but I’ll pull out some choice quotes below for comment.
Many college admissions officers support the idea [of deferring admission for a year or two]. While cautioning that a “gap year” between high school and college isn’t for everyone — and that just goofing off isn’t worthwhile — they say many students who take one return more confident and self-aware. […]
Generally, schools make students submit a proposal beyond “lying on the beach,” but often little more is required. The University of Chicago says it will grant deferrals for almost any reason as long as students don’t apply elsewhere.
“It’s reached the point where a lot of us in admissions are talking about ways to get students to just kind of relax,” said Martha Merrill, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College.
We at MIT are among those college admissions officers who are supportive of students taking a gap year. And, like the University of Chicago (and many other schools), we’re happy to grant deferrals to most any proposal you might have. Also, we agree with Connecticut College’s Martha Merrill — as you’ve probably read on these blogs, we’re quite interested in finding ways of making college admissions and the high school to college transition less stressful and frenzied.
If you are a member of the Class of 2010 and would like to request a one-year (or sometimes two-year) deferral from starting at MIT, you can send a letter outlining your plans to our office:
Office of Admissions
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 3-108
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
“Gap year” is a bit of a loaded term, I think, with images of British aristocracy vacationing in the south of France coming to mind. But during my years in admissions, I’ve seen students take some time before starting MIT for many great reasons. For example, one of my favorite students spent a year as an EMT in Israel before his freshman year. This gave him a lot of perspective on the world, and when he got his first bad grade at MIT, he knew that it wasn’t a disaster, but rather an indication that he might want to reexamine his study habits and try a little harder next time. No crisis. Ultimately, his impact on MIT and the students around him was great, and his mentorship, with the help of his gap year’s perspective, was invaluable to many students here.
The article also addresses the different kinds of gap years:
Gap years need not be a luxury for the rich. Some students use them to earn money for school. Many programs offer scholarships or compensation for labor; AmeriCorps offers a living allowance and education funding. Reardon says anyone would be hard-pressed during a gap year to spend the $30,000 or more many of them would be paying for college.
I’m not writing to say that all students should take some time off before starting college. But I do think that there is a bit of a stigma about such plans in many areas of the country, a stigma that should be eliminated. The AP writes:
In the United States, however, experts say the increasing stress of college admissions makes parents nervous about any kind of unusual path. “These are families that somehow see this as not part of the grand plan,” said Gail Reardon, who founded a Boston company, Taking Off, that helps students plan gap years. Adds Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania: “Not wanting to break stride is the American way.” […] “I don’t think there’s any rational explanation to just run to college,” [Gerrit Lansing, a student who took a gap year] said. “There’s no reason. It’s just what everyone does.”
The bottom line here is that it is okay to slow down. Life, college, career — it’s not a race.